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The flamenco guitar : an avatar of the Iberian Baroque?
To learn. How?
Some classical records
Small flamenco lexicon
  La guitare flamenca : un avatar du Baroque ibérique ?  



Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra
Es inutil
Es imposible

It is then the complaint
of the guitar
Useless to stop it
Impossible to stop it

Federico Garcia Lorca (Poema del Cante Jondo)

The complaint, the sob! No word has proved deeper but that of Federico Garcia Lorca : the sob is the authentic, ultimate expression of the guitar, not the theatrical sob or the stereotyped mewing, but the dense tear, the heart rending which touch us when - the word is by Claude Ballif - under the fingers of the tocaor, it is primarily the primitive sound of the wood which resounds like a skin to our ears. La prima que canta y el bordon que llora, the chanterelle which sings and the bass which cries, Manuel Machado says in one of his Soleares.
But where the brilliant intuition of the Andalusian poet appears, is in the concept of infinite that he feels in the speech of the guitar, in this music without beginning nor end which goes on and on in an obsessive irreversible way : Es imposible callarla. We will further see which technical reasons can be today advanced and give a scientific support to this poetic idea, reasons which can constitute powerful dash between the baroque guitar of the Spanish Golden Age and the current toque jondo or deep flamenco.
What is indeed this mystery hidden in the subsoil of the flamenco guitar and which one finds in the old tablatures of the Spaniards of the xviith and xviiith centuries? What is the strange capacity of a simple cadenza known as Andalusian, which a harmonist would reject with contempt, repeated ad nauseam, almost identical to itself ad infinitum? Can one explain the quasi-hypnosis which the guitar exerts on the aficionado, which Ortega y Gasset calls ensimismamiento (return in oneself)?
The "traditional" musicologist has no words to answer these questions because this field escapes him as completely as that of the ragas of India, the arab-andalusian sprees, the simple Amerindian cantilenas or the passacalles so apparently naive of Gaspar Sanz. We have to turn again to Lorca to have a definition (and also a vivid illustration) : the duende. The duende, is this small black demon, spirit of the earth, which prevents flamenco from sinking into the banality and the mediocrity of so many folklores; it is this "mysterious capacity which all feel and which the philosopher does not explain" about which Goethe spoke speaking of Paganini, who could transform the real vulgarities that he wrote, into masterpieces under his wizard bow. Here, one understands better these famous notas negras (black sounds) quasi magic, evoked by the Andalusian poet to characterize the most sublime moments dictated by the duende at the time of the flamenco fiesta . One cannot prevent oneself from thinking at the same time in Goya in his last period, in Falla and Scarlatti, Ohana and Francisco Guerau; and how we are far from the guitar-entertainment and these musics from yesterday and today whose certain concert performers water us because they only see the means of obtaining the automatic humming of the public!

The adventure of the baroque or the art of the diferencia

It is probably in the Middle Age that the guitar starts to be the cherished confidant of the popular poets, thus taking again the tradition of the lyre of Orpheus. This myth was anyway in the Renaissance the constant image of reference for the vihuelists or guitarist-poet-composers.
In spite of the little of information we have to determine this time, a fact seems to be detached clearly: the Spanish musicians cultivate the form diferencias - that is to say theme and variations - with an obstinacy such as this musical kind appears to belong to them properly. Besides doesn't one say that the first diferencias which reached us are in the work of the vihuelist Luys de Narvaez (1538)?
Anyway, when the vihuela is abandoned for the popular guitar "baroque" at the end of the xvith century, the music which one plays in Spain is exclusively made up of this musical form while everywhere in Europe another form very distant from this one is established: the Suite of bipartite dances with reprises. Yes, the art of " chitarra spagnuola" (as called it the Italians) was restricted to repeat, with the insistence of the primitive musics, the rhythms and the simple harmony of various pieces, all of definitely popular origin, which were sung or danced then. Works of Cervantes give a good description of it. Let us quote the pieces with 3/4 + 6/8 such as Jácaras, Zarabandas, Canarios; those to 3/4 like Chaconas, Marizápalos, Españoletas, Folías, Villanos, Passacalles, Fandangos (the only one whose name survived); finally, fewer, the binary ones, Hachas, Pavanas and Passacalles at 2 times.
The techniques of play used during all xviith and xviiith centuries are, either the rasgueado (or folded back agreements), or a mixture of rasgueado and punteado (or traditional play). The notation is the tablature or the symbolic fingering chart system of the chords. The themes which are used as cell-mother in the diferencias are always short, four or eight measures in general; the modulations did not appear within the same composition even if it is long several pages! The admirable Jàcaras del Cuarto tono by Antonio de Santa Cruz, characteristic in this respect, appear as twenty-five diferencias where one finds no modal modulation ; as for the harmony, it is built on the second third and fourth degrees of this mode excluding any other!
Conversely, in Italy, from the very start of the xviith century, one finds Suites for "baroque" guitar of Foscarini and others in the traditional form Preludio, Allemanda, Corrente, etc. The only diferencias "exported" from Spain to Europe are the chaconne, the folies (with which success!) and the passacailles.

The heritage

At the xviiith century, the guitar brutally loses its favor in Spain as in Europe as an aristocratic instrument. It will survive nevertheless in Spain in its marginal form: it is the popular guitar or "flamenco". One can see it in the picturesque and folk scenes of Goya as one had seen it two centuries before in the taverns and the streets of Seville under the brush of Velasquez. Achieving a kind of "natural cycle" of return to the sources, one can say that it did nothing but pass from the hands of the baroque picaros to those of the romantic majos.
Restored with the people, the guitar had preserved of its baroque adventure, from a strictly formal point of view, a certain number of elements which one can still easily observe in current flamenco :
- the secular and immutable form of the diferencias
- the excessive taste for the ternary rhythm and especially for the alternation 3/4 + 6/8 which one will meet in great toques like the siguiriya gitana;
- the taste for modes: in particular the old 4th ecclesiastical tone , alone also surviving in the Spanish classical music;
- the alternate form of the variations rasgueado and the variations punteado, respectively renamed ritmo and falseta by the Andalusians of the XIXth century.
Another heritage, curious that one, which this flamenco world resulting from the Baroque was going to collect, was the major tendency to the secrecy and the oral transmission of the knowledge of Master to disciple rather than his written disclosure. This characteristic is well-known of all those, lutists or guitarists, who harnessed themselves with the task to make revive under their fingers the old tablatures. Do not read we in the treaty of Mary Burwell, lutist of the xviith century: "[... the Master never writing the lesson with all the indications of execution, so that it can communicate of mouth to ear one day a detail, the following day another, that the pupil will write on his book to be able to perfect sure rules and precepts; because, if the Master delivered this secrecy, or marked all on the books, the pupil could learn any lesson by itself (...)" Those which attended the world of flamenco surely met similar attitudes or more extremes still : for example, one never plays twice the same falseta in front of a payo (a foreigner) for fear it does learn it from ear! It is to say that it will be a fortiori very rare to find valid partitions, even emanating from the greatest Masters, in the shops ; but the rise of the disc, for a few years, has contributed to change this mentality.
Lastly, about a myth uniformly widespread as for the improvisation on the flamenco guitar, let us read again the treaty of Burwell: "If you cannot make preludes, it is necessary to learn many preludes of other people and then, when you play in front of people, to take a passage in a prelude, a passage in another so that the public has the impression that you improvise your own prelude". We have the exact definition of the traditional step of guitarists who don't create anything but choose more or less personal falsetas in their memory under the inspiration of the moment without improvising in a strict sense of the word.
The similarities of playing between the flamenco and baroque guitars are also obvious:
- the position of the right hand
- the tendency to press auricular and annular on the sounding board;
- the immoderate use of the thumb as element contributing to the melody, heritage of the "small octaves";
- the complicated rasgueados with outward goes and returns
- the little taste of the left hand for high positions on the fingerboard;
- the great facility for slurs and consequently, the tendency to misuse virtuosity.
With regard to the instrument making, the lightness of manufacture and the use of wooden pegs are as many signs for the attentive observer.
Nevertheless, the deepest analogy appears in the constant cyclic, obsessional, of the rhythm and the F-E cadenza of the 4° tono, elements which ad infinitum gear down throughout the toque and which Lorca had already implicitly indicated us as being the essence of great flamenco. These two poles, rhythm and dissonance, combine and give place to fulgurating tensions or flickering irisations which maintain the listener out of breath without never stopping their attractive play: " Es imposible callarla" (one cannot make it shut up). Here too we have, under the pen of Lorca, in a poetic formula the expression of a major reality with which the tocaor is confronted: those who have practised the flamenco guitar know how much it is difficult to finish soleares or siguiriyas. One is taken in a kind of swirl where a falseta calls another one, indefinitely, where the rhythm becomes a spell, a giddiness. Then, often, in order to break the circle, comes the quiebro, this brutal change of measure and rhythm, even of mode, which electrifies the guitarist irritated by a too long meeting and allows him to cross short and to finish in an elliptic way.

The others influences

In the preceding chapter, we tried to connect two until now dissociated worlds and which appear to us on the contrary to have great affinities: the flamenco toque and the Spanish baroque music.
This particular lighting, whatever its importance, should not make us forget the other historical roots which one traditionally allots to Andalusian art. Particularly, these other influences will remain the dominant ones in the cante and the baile (song and dance). It acts, briefly point out them, of the contributions of the Gregorian liturgical song and the old Arab melodies initially; then comes to be grafted the Hebraic liturgical song of the Sephardi Jews which has besides common origins with the precedents. Lastly, the gipsies, probably come from the Indies, are, contrary to a very widespread opinion, those which the least contributed to influence flamenco. Marvelous vectors of transmission, they ensured especially a certain circulation through Spain and maintained alive the tradition for centuries.
If the toque is that of the three styles which was subject to the most Western influences as we saw higher, it is nevertheless probable that the guitar itself owes its existence to the Moors, large importing of civilization in Europe at the Middle Age. Like her brother the lute and much of other instruments with fingerboard, it is easy to recognize it in the tanbur or the setar of Minor Asia . However, it is difficult to define similarities of playing between these instruments or to see precise formal analogies between the Eastern musics and flamenco. At most could one say that there is a relationship, an air of family between them, and that "the driving rhythms of the Arab music transmitted to a number of Iberian creations an obsessing monotony, at the same time spell and fatalism *". * CH. Le Bordays, Spanish Music, P.U.F.

To learn. How?

Another sound universe

The principal difficulty to learn lies in the following fact : flamenco is a musical esoteric world which is to us, a priori, foreigner and who has very strict laws. The least variation with the purity of the style is perceived pitilessly by the experts whereas it passes easily unperceived to the others. Under these conditions, the difficulties related to the training of flamenco bring back to a problem of musical impregnation of consciences and tastes. This impregnation is of the highest importance since the authenticity with which one will approach the meanders of the toque jondo, depends mainly on it, especially if one is alone. For this reason, we think that it is particularly harmful for the aficionado to launch out blindly from the very start swallowing pieces and accumulating falsetas randomly, without before having looked further into the styles and having formed one's judgment. Without the retreat necessary, without the major culture (which is that of the people), one is an easy prey of error and bad taste. It is what explains the success of a current counterfeit which prevails in the media and whose tough stereotype replaces in the spirit of the public the authentic major art : the "export" flamenco. But the hysterical demonstrations of such or such "star" of the flamenco guitar (anyway imitated from musics of stereotyped varieties) in no case will be able to bluff the amateur provided that his taste was cultivated as a preliminary, at least we hope for it!

Oral transmission

In certain nontraditional musics like flamenco, the contribution of the interpreter constitutes the essential musical element if one compares it with the text itself which constitutes generally only one support. It is not a question for all that improvisation (within the meaning of the jazz for example) insofar as the text used, that it is entirely traditional or of the invention of the tocaor himself, should not be changed nor embroidered at the time of the execution. True flamenco art consists in the manner of saying the words and phrasings of the musical sentence and not in the manner of composing this sentence. Such guitarist, under the unexplainable inspiration of the duende, will give a musical value and a dimension particular to a falseta which appears meaningless by simple reading (whereas the traditional musical text contains already emotional data whose interpreter becomes aware by the analysis or simply the instinct and that it is only charged to emphasize).
The tocaor will use for this purpose a whole arsenal of inflections, accents, complaints, glares and cries of a rare complexity and which seem resulting directly from the spoken language. It is this rhetoric which will hang the aficionado and which will run "the current", because, like the daily language, it is assimilable immediately : "la hace hablar" (he makes "speak" the guitar) is the greatest traditional praise which one can make of a tocaor; it will not require any musical preparation as in the case of the traditional musical rhetoric based on sets of compositional structures. Just as one needs a special "knack" to succeed in telling a joke or making carry a counterpart to the theater, one will need to the guitarist the gracia, the duende in this kind of very particular communication with its audience. If not, there will remain nothing and its flamenco will be banal and without interest.
It will then be understood easily that no musical notation will be able to restore this reality which has the complexity of life itself, not more than it is not possible to note on paper the gesture in arabesque of the flamenco dancer . This is why one will be probably disappointed with the deciphering of partitions of this music: can the phonetic most erudite transcription return the flavor and the accent of an Oriental language?

Advices to the apprentice-tocaor

The cante
Above all, we could not insist too much on the importance of the major knowledge of the song, its forms, its styles for the following reason: the cante is the source from where will spout out the oldest and purest rhythms and melisms, it is the principle which will fertilize the toque in an irreplaceable way, the light from which the inspiration will come. Of the three manifestations of art flamenco - song, dance, guitar -, the first is that which preserved certainly the oldest idiom and most characteristic of this historically exceptional phenomenon: growth on the tree of the Western music, a foreign branch. Radically estranging, it is thus necessary to privilege the cante with regard to the impregnation of the ear about which we spoke higher.
This subject opens a whole polemic besides; for some, the guitar is only an accompaniment instrument for the song or the dance and thus a simple means, an obliged ingredient (except same in some lay like the martinetes or the saeta) of the fiesta. They confine the guitar in this role of intelligent guide without recognizing it districts of nobility like soloist instrument in the tradition. For them, the concert of flamenco guitar would be of recent invention. To our opinion, it is a deep ignorance of the historical roots of the toque. The Eastern tradition, mentioned above, comprises, as soon as the Middle Age, instrumental soli. In the tablatures of baroque guitar , we see already at the xviith century, pieces entirely written in rasgueado style and thus intended for the accompaniment, besides the same pieces in punteado style for the use of the soloist. Thus it is in the Libro de diferentes cifras [... ] dated in 1705, where almost all the traditional pieces of the Iberian Baroque appear in the two versions and where a Jota is found and two Fandangos. Lastly, in 1845, the guitarist called "El Murciano" dazzled Glinka, then traveling through Spain, during whole nights and this, by the only magic of the toque.
The toque constitutes certainly a tradition parallel within flamenco, with, in some limit, its own laws and a relative autonomy compared to both others. Would it be astonishing that, constantly, the guitarists tended to train a clan, a separate caste, not easily inserted in the musical medium where they live? But how it be, traditional, flamenco or of varieties, a guitarist remains a guitarist!
One can even say, a contrario, that the guitar historically contributed to influence the rhythms and the harmonies of some cantes and bailes by a phenomenon of imitation or attraction. Thus, the serrana and the siguiriya, of very different origin and melody profile, were seen accompanied in the same way and by an effect of reciprocity, the toques which of it result, like parts soloists, have great similarities. The same remark is true for the caña and the soleá. The strongly rhythmic pieces of the repertorio chico (minor) like the bulería, the alegrías, the rosa, the caracoles, particularly emphasize the guitar; one also attends a standardization of their profile in the accompaniment and the solo.
The case of the free rhythm songs, i.e. not imposed by the guitarist a priori, must be considered separately. They do not form part of the primitive jondo repertory. However, as soli, one must admit them like toques jondos, from their difficulty and the depth of musical imagination brought into play. One can historically explain it by the need, for the tocaor accompanying the cantaor, "to stick" to the poetic text, without the help of a preestablished rhythm, by the only means of the ornaments and rhetoric. The development of the latter allowed toques like the tarantas, malagueñas, fandangos, granaínas, etc, to become great soloists toques . As let us notice also that they are the only repertory which does not borrow the form of the diferencias but rather that of the preludes or the frescobaldians toccatas .

Structure of the toques
The musical universe of the different toques is limited quantitatively; nevertheless it takes a long time to explore and certain pieces require a great maturity and sure fingers. Do not approach these difficult great toques like soleares, tientos, siguiriyas and tarantas until one is perfectly a Master of his basic technique. Especially for the pieces at twelve times when the control of the rhythm must be absolute, under penalty of making a serious musicologic fault and, quite worse, a musical one. We will benefit to quote these words of an Arab musician which apply marvelously to flamenco: "That which horn is ours; that which adds or cuts off in a melody is ours; but that which deviates from time without realizing it cannot be ours ". Let's claim that the best training to control the rhythm is the accompaniment of the flamenco dance.
Being an element which speaks directly with the sensitivity, sonority cannot be neglected by the flamenco guitarist who must master it and be able to vary the nuances and the effects of them. It can give us all the colors of the pallet from the hardest raucousness to the transparency and tenderness while passing by the glare of metal. Too many tocaores are confined in the same stamp uniformly rough and an exclusive nuance, the fortissimo!
Not succumb to intoxication of truffer pieces of noisy rasgueados and excessive golpes - the golpe is the percussion carried out simultaneously with the sounds of the normal play. Preserve an emotional value which would blunt if these effects were too often employed. The golpes must be a simple punctuation of the musical speech. The rasgueados have a rhetoric value of ornament, this word being taken with the sense that already the baroque guitarists employed; they must be varied in their nature and their effect, not considered as a rhythmic filling.

Certain recent schools, under the influence of America (South like North), have fallen in a style characterized by excessive exuberance. For us, flamenco must remain a dialectical balance between exuberance and sobriety, invention and tradition, paroxysm and reserve.
Flamenco is an art of recluses. Even when the fiesta is at its higher degree of communion, it is each one on their side that the guitarist, the singer and the dancer pursue their own dream, their own duende. Consequently, all the pieces for two guitars have to be regarded as suspect and not belonging to the pure tradition. The duets can be nevertheless a good introduction to the rhythm for the beginner if he plays with his Master. But, please, avoid falsetas at the third, of improper style and doubtful result !


If one excludes the "ancestors" like the Persian musician Ziryab, settled at Cordoba in 822, or the baroque guitarist Antonio de Santa-Cruz (xviith century), which left us a very tasty work halfway between the classical music and the popular style, it is necessary to go up at the beginning of the XIXth century to find the name of the first true tocaor: "Paquirri". One knows unfortunately almost nothing about him.
Come then: "El Murciano" (1795-1848) which we know already, Patiño (1830-1900), Javier Molina (1868-1956), Habichuela (1860-1935). With Ramon Montoya (1880-1949), we are at the apogee of the classicism: then one reaches this point of balance where the tradition and the invention merge, without one being able to really distinguish the contribution due to the one and the other. In other words, the personal compositional effort (why wouldn't there exist in a folklore which is so close to an art?) goes in the same historical direction as the forces which established the tradition itself. In this direction one can say that Montoya is not an innovator, whereas are some young today's guitarists. In the area of the technique, he knew how to integrate into the play of the flamenco guitarists of the XIXth century all the contributions due to Tàrrega in the classical guitar, like "rest stroke" and the "tremolo". The descent of Ramon Montoya is numerous. He is the inspirer of the various styles that its successors will create, each one according to its personality, but always in the orbit of the Master. Large codifier of the toque, Montoya was Master for the rigor and the purity of his style, but also for the fact that it was the first to use the diffusion by disc (1936 by B.A.M.). This date in more than one way marks a turning in the history of the toque since it also means to a certain extend the final point for several centuries of esotericism.
In this descent, Niño Ricardo (1909-1972) represents the tendency which one could describe as "gongorist", i.e. characterized by some exuberance similar to the prebaroque mannerism. Some old recordings on the other hand clearly show it sober and especially of a rare elegance in diction and in phrasing, especially in his interventions between the coplas when he accompanies the song. His immense popularity in Spain throughout his life is not, as some tried to show, a pledge of facility and lack of depth.
Perico del Lunar (1894-1964), with exemplary sobriety, left us the moving image of a man very close to the popular roots of its soil and which reaches a certain size by its simplicity. His play, which points out the medieval sobriety of the plainsong, seems nevertheless to suffer from a certain lack of technical ease.
Very personal is the flamenco of Melchor de Marchena (born in 1913). In spite of some barbarisms, his language is of a rare richness and an extraordinary invention. One can regard him as one of the stars of the xxth century toque.
The case of Sabicas and Mario Escudero, which are among the more gifted of their generation, is to be placed apart from this study: their flamenco, strongly influenced by their American period, does not appear to us to contain essential qualities of authenticity. Nevertheless, their work within the Compañia of Carmen Amaya ensures to them a place of choice in the history of flamenco.
One may also listen with profit to the recordings (sometimes a little simplistic) of Roman el Granaino (born in 1913), of Pepe Martinez and Carlos Montoya where best (excellent tarantas) neighbors often the worst. Those of Pepe Motos , also guitarist of Carmen Amaya, full with dynamism and glare, are by their fulgurance "jondos por los cuatro costados".



Some standards records :

Guitare seule

Ramon MONTOYA: Arte clásico Flamenco, BAM; D 430.
Melchor de MARCHENA : Guitare gitane, Erato ; EAF 1507. Niño RICARDO: Guitare flamenca, Chant du Monde; LDX 4339.
Perico el del LUNAR; BAM; LD 362.
Roman el GRANAINO: Arte Flamenco n° 1 ; Teppaz, 45514.
Guitare accompagnant le chant

Tomàs PAVON avec Melchor de Marchena, Odéon ; EMI EPL 14289.
Antonio CHACON avec P.el del Lunar, Odéon; EMI DSOE 16488.
Nina de los PEINES avec Nino Ricardo, Regal ; EMI 11040 20077.
Rafael ROMERO avec P. el del Lunar; BAM, LD 361.

Small flamenco lexikon

AFICIONADO: amateur, "Bitten" dilettante.
BORDON: 6th string of the guitar. Falseta Al bordón: variation in the low register of the instrument, always carried out with the thumb.
BAILE dances.
CALÉ Gipsy.
CALÓ language of the Gipsies.
CANTE song
CHICO . Minor, contrary of jondo.
CHITARRA SPAGNUOLA: name which the Italians gave to the guitar (from Spain) to xviith and xviiith centuries.
COMPASS: measure, rhythm.
DIFERENCIAS: variations and disminutions at the xviith century, today falseta.
FIESTA: meeting (in a patio, a tavern, etc.) where one sings and one dances.
FALSETA: episode of a toque where one embroiders on a succession of agreements or a melody topic. The number of measures is always a multiple of four except in the free toques like tarantas or granainas.
FLAMENCO: as substantive can designate a professional of flamenco. As qualilicative can characterize the manners of a sharp and offhand person.
GOLPE: percussion on the soundboard with the auricular, the annular, or both, simultaneously with the action of the thumb or the index on the strings.
JALEO: spontaneous accompaniment of the protagonists of the fiesta by the public by means of palmas, pitos, or simply of cries or apostrophes.
JIPIO: cry emitted during lays with force or vehemence. Has a pejorative nuance.
JONDO: deep (Andalusian pronunciation for hondo). Indicate a particular way to sing, dance or play of the guitar, in which the spectacular effect is always sacrificed to the profit of the interior emotion that the artist lives. Preceded by cante, baile, toque, indicates a part of the flamenco repertory .
MAJO,: popular type of the end of the xviiith century.
PALMAS: slapping of the hands.
PAYO: not Gipsy. Not flamenco.
PICARO: popular type of the Renaissance.
PITOS: slapping of the fingers; can compete in virtuosity with the castanets.
PRIMA: chanterelle of the guitar.
PUNTEADO: classical playing with the guitar.
QUIEBRO: eventual change of measure (at the end of a toque).
RASGUEADO: folded back agreements (old French : batterie); they are multiple in their rhythms (from duplet to the sextuplet) and in their colours (from greatest softness to the rawest roughness); they usually use right hand auricular
TOCAOR: player of flamenco guitar .
TACONEO. Action of the heel on the ground.
TOQUE: action to play the flamenco guitar . Also term indicating the pieces themselves; the toques flamencos are in a limited
number and are distinguished the ones from the others by immutable rhythms and modes.
ZAPATEO: with her feet, the dancer can produce a counterpoint which will combine with that of the guitarist;
one uses the heel, the point, the flat and even the side of the shoe of dance (the bota) to produce different sounds.

Published 1981 in "LE GUIDE DE LA GUITARE" Editions Mazarine, Paris